With the help of students at the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School, an Afghan national who had been imprisoned for three years on a misdemeanor charge was recently released on bail.
Sophomores Laila Khaled and Jordan Woodleaf defended their client’s case in Arlington immigration court and won his release in December.
“From the beginning, the case was an uphill battle, given that the client had been denied bail on three previous occasions,” said clinic trainer Sophia Gregg, an attorney with the Justice Center at Legal Aid. Compounding the case was his asylum appeal, which is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Khalid said the agent fled Afghanistan to live in Pakistan as a child due to Taliban persecution, and later came to the US on a student visa in 2015 to seek asylum when the persecution continued. In 2018, he was convicted of a misdemeanor of minor assault with a 90-day suspended prison sentence, but has been held by the Department of Homeland Security at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia for more than three years.
“Our client faced serious medical problems while in detention, including being infected with COVID-19, suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia, as well as being exposed to physical violence by prison guards,” Khaled said.
After denying several bond issuance hearings, the clinic petitioned for a habeas corpus with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which recently set a new standard of review for an immigration court to consider release (see sidebar).
At that hearing, the court ordered that their client be given a bail hearing in immigration court. Woodlev credited the outcome to the “amazing work” of clinic trainer Jennifer Kwon, who is also an attorney at the Justice Center for Legal Aid, and others working on the case.
With the Bond session given, students are getting busy.
“Jordan and Lila worked throughout the Thanksgiving break, submitting over 100 pages of documents in support of the client’s case, and speaking to the client every day for several months to gather facts and prepare for the bond hearing,” Gregg said.
Woodleaf said another turning point occurred when the students obtained records confirming their client had been abused by Farmville Detention Center guards, and that an internal investigation cleared him of any responsibility.
“This fact proved very moving for the immigration judge, who referred to the internal investigation into finding that our client was not a danger to the community,” Woodleaf said.
Ludlev, who served as first president with help from Greg, argued at the hearing that his client was not a danger to the community because he had a “robust release plan” and that the Department of Homeland Security had the ability to put him in an alternative detention program.
“We have also argued that the court should have weighed his prolonged detention in favor of his release, as he was held for more than three years and more than 12 times over for 90 days due to his original misdemeanor conviction,” Woodleaf said.
Khaled, who served as the second presiding officer at the hearing, helped describe and design the release plan, and wrote the argument for why their client is neither a danger nor an escape risk.
“I was also responsible for reaching out to all of his community and friends to interview them about their relationship with our client and helped them write letters of support for the court, saying they would help provide our clients with transportation, housing and employment if she said.
The community’s support for their client, a prominent member of the Muslim community in Richmond, proved powerful, they argued. Although the students began formulating a proposal to cut what they thought was a high bond amount — $30,000 — their clients’ backers were able to quickly raise the money.
“I felt very relieved when I heard the news of his release and that all our work this semester led to a happy ending,” Khaled said. “I was really amazed to watch this community come together to raise support for our clients; their generosity was heartwarming, and they were all so grateful to have their friend back.”
Although their client remains subject to deportation, he “has very viable avenues for relief,” Woodleaf said, including a proposal to reopen his case at the Immigration Appeals Board.
The client has a pending application for asylum and relief under the CAT, based on his fear of returning to his home country due to his mental health issues, his religion, and his political views.
“With the Taliban in control, the changing situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a factor in his release as he became more likely to succeed in obtaining exemption from deportation,” Gregg added.
Both students said they learned a lot from their experience at the year-long clinic, which was designed to educate participants about immigration law and allow them to provide direct representation to asylum seekers and individuals seeking release from immigration detention.
“I learned how hard the work it would be to become the lawyer I wanted,” Woodleaf said. “As we were preparing drafts of the bond proposal and conducting moot court hearings, I noticed how Professor Gregg and Professor Kwon were able to effortlessly craft creative and direct arguments. Moving forward in the clinic and in my time as a law student, I want to take advantage of every opportunity to present oral arguments in court and prepare arguments new to difficult issues.
Khaled said the clinic taught her how to have sensitive conversations with clients and how to be patient and persistent when facing roadblocks.
“Instead of learning about the intricacies of the immigration system in the classroom, we were able to experience it first-hand with real cases and learned how to navigate the system along the way,” she said.